Category Archives: D. A. Carson

May 25 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Numbers 34; Psalm 78:40–72; Isaiah 26; 1 John 4

 

in his song of praise, isaiah celebrates the Lord’s impending triumph and demonstrates what it means to wait for him to act (Isaiah 26). The opening verses offer anticipatory praise (26:1–6), offered to the God who makes the ultimate Jerusalem the rampart of security (26:2) and preserves in peace the minds of all the individuals within it—all who trust in the living God (26:3–4).

Most of the chapter is devoted to reflections on what it means to wait for that ultimate triumph (26:7–21). “Yes, Lord,” Isaiah writes, “walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts” (26:8). But while the righteous yearn for the living God (26:9a), the shocking reality is that the people who do not know him never learn anything from the grace that God shows them (26:9b–10). And so eventually the people of God cry out that God might come and impose his righteousness (26:11)—very much as in Revelation 6:10.

Meanwhile, the faithful remnant live with ambiguity and disappointment (26:12–18). Idolatry flourishes in the land where the living God established peace (26:12–13). The remnant remains faithful while the culture succumbs (26:13). What is described in the next verses is almost the cyclical pattern of Israel’s history. God responds to the infidelity with judgment. In due course he returns with grace, enlarges the nation, and extends his own glory. And yet, when all is said and done, what is the outcome? The nation is like a woman writhing in the pains of childbirth—and when she finally brings forth her offspring, all she has produced is wind (26:18). “We have not brought salvation to the earth; we have not given birth to people of the world” (26:18). Where is the great hope bound up with Israel’s identity, with the promise to the patriarch that in Israel’s seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12)?

Yet the chapter ends with hope. There is even hope for those who have died during the wearisome cycles of frustration, failure, futility, and judgment: they neither waited nor died in vain, for they will rise from the dead and share in the joy of victory (26:19)—a promise of life briefly glimpsed in 25:8, demonstrated in the resurrection of Jesus, and ultimately fulfilled at the end (1 Cor. 15; 1 Thess. 4:13–18). Meanwhile, those who are still alive must wait in patience for the wrath of God to pass (26:20–21). More clearly than Isaiah, we know that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17–18; cf. Rom. 8:18).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 25 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Numbers 34; Psalm 78:40–72; Isaiah 26; 1 John 4

 

“how often they rebelled against him in the desert and grieved him in the wasteland! Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel” (Ps. 78:40–41). Thus Asaph pauses in the course of his recital to summarize one of his main points in this psalm. In fact, one could outline some of the dramatic points Asaph makes as follows:

(1) The repeated rebellion of the people of God is presented not merely as disobedience, but as putting God to the test. That is one of the elements in rebellion that is so gross, so odious. A heavy dose of “in your face” marks this rebellion, an ugly pattern of unbelief that implicitly charges God with powerlessness, with cruelty, with selfishness, with thoughtlessness, with foolishness. Chronic and repeated unbelief “with attitude” always has this element of putting God to the test. What will God do about it? Small wonder that the apostle Paul identifies the same pattern in the conduct of the people during the wilderness years and warns Christians in his day, “We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us” (1 Cor. 10:9–11).

(2) Although the first part of the chapter notes God’s wrath replying to the pattern of the people’s rebellion, it also insists that time after time God “restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath” (78:38). But the pattern now becomes grimmer. Eventually the idolatry was so gross that God “was very angry; he rejected Israel completely” (78:59). The context shows that what Asaph has in mind is the judgment of God on the people when he permitted the ark of the Lord to be captured by the Philistines: “He sent the ark of his might into captivity, his splendor into the hands of the enemy” (78:61; cf. 1 Sam. 4:5–11), with the entailment that the people faced terrible destruction at the hand of their enemies.

(3) The closing verses (78:65–72) focus on the gracious choice of Judah and of David as God’s answer to the wretched years of the wilderness, of the judges, of the reign of Saul. “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them” (78:72). Living this side of the Incarnation, Christians are especially grateful for David’s line.

(4) Christians know how the storyline of Psalm 78 develops. David’s dynasty descends into corruption; God’s wrath is greater yet, and the Exile ensues. But worse wrath, and more glorious love, were yet to be displayed in the cross.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 24 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Numbers 33; Psalm 78:1–39; Isaiah 25; 1 John 3

 

isaiah 25 is divided into three parts. In the center is a festive banquet (25:6–8). On either side is a song. The first is sung by a solitary singer, doubtless Isaiah himself (25:1–5); the second is a communal song of praise (25:9–12).

At the feast (25:6–8) the food is the finest, and free—“a feast of rich food for all peoples.” The “shroud” or “sheet” that “covers all nations” (25:7) is death itself, the result of the curse mentioned in the preceding chapter. This feast is a celebration because God “will swallow up death forever” (25:8). Indeed, all the results of the curse will be obliterated: “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces” (25:8; compare Rev. 21). Indeed, the blessings depicted in this verse are secured by Jesus (see Luke 14:15–24), who vanquishes death (1 Cor. 15:25–26, 51–57; 2 Tim. 1:10). This feast is for “all peoples” (25:6)—another of the many Isaianic prefigurings of the universal application of the Gospel—yet they must come to “this mountain” (25:7); for salvation, as Jesus insists to the Samaritan woman, is “from the Jews” (John 4:22). When Isaiah adds that God will remove the disgrace of “his people” from all the earth, the reference is slightly ambiguous: this may be a reference to Israel, or it may be a reference to those drawn from “all peoples” who truly prove to be his people on the last day.

The song of the lone singer (25:1–5) abounds in exuberant praise to God because he is perfectly faithful. This faithfulness is demonstrated both in the devastating judgments he has brought about and in God’s perennial care for the poor and needy (25:4). In short, God is praised for the faithful justice of his judgments. The final communal song (25:9–12) finds God’s people collectively praising him: “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us.” (25:9). But here, too, the inverse activity of God is to be praised: God has brought judgment on those full of pride. Moab is singled out as an example of such waywardness. So at the end, there will be two communities: God’s people at the festal banquet where God himself is host and death is destroyed; and the utterly proud, who will not bend the knee but whom God brings down “to the very dust” (25:12). One commentator (Barry G. Webb) writes, “Either repentance will bring you to the feast or pride will keep you away, and the consequences will be unsullied joy or unspeakably terrible judgment. The alternatives which the Gospel sets before us are as stark as that.”[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 24 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Numbers 33; Psalm 78:1–39; Isaiah 25; 1 John 3

 

the opening few verses of Psalm 78 initially elicit a little puzzlement. Asaph invites his readers (and if this is sung, his hearers) to hear his teaching, to listen to the words of his mouth (78:1). Then he announces, “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old” (78:2). Anticipation builds; it sounds as if we shall hear brand-new things that have been hidden before Asaph came on the scene. Then he further describes these “hidden things, things from of old”: they are “what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us” (78:3). So, is he embarking on some new revelation, previously hidden, or is he simply reviewing the common heritage of the Israelites? And why add at this point that at least part of his purpose is to disclose these things to the new generation that is coming along (78:4)?

Three observations:

First, the word rendered “parables” has a wide range of meaning. It can refer to narrative parables, wisdom sayings, aphorisms, and several other forms. Here, Asaph seems to mean no more than that he will say what he has to say in the poetic structures and wise comparisons that characterize this psalm.

Second, the content of this psalm is both old—“what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us”—and new, “hidden things.” This psalm is one of a group of “historical psalms,” that is, psalms that review some of the experiences of the people of God with their God. For most of its length its chief focus is the Exodus and the events that surrounded it, including the plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the provision of manna, and so forth. The psalm brings us down to the reign of David (which, incidentally, shows that Asaph himself lived in David’s day or later). Yet this psalm is not a mere review of the bare facts of that history. The recital is designed to draw certain lessons from that history, lessons that might be missed if attention were not drawn to them. These lessons include the sorry patterns of rebellion, God’s self-restraint in his rising anger, his graciousness in saving them again and again, and more. These lessons are “hidden” in the bare text, but they are there, and Asaph brings them out.

Third, Asaph understands (1) that deep knowledge of Scripture and of the ways of God means more than knowing facts, but also grasping the unfolding patterns to see what God is doing; (2) that at any time the covenant people of God are never more than one generation from extinction, so it is utterly vital to pass on this accumulating insight to the next generation.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 23 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Numbers 32; Psalm 77; Isaiah 24; 1 John 2

 

isaiah 24–27, which culminates the long section of chapters 13–27, is sometimes called “the Isaiah apocalypse.” Here Isaiah moves from oracles against particular nations to an apocalypse (an “unveiling”) regarding the entire world. The thought is not so much sequential or literalistic as a series of provocative images that tell their own story. Isaiah 24 primarily describes the devastation that must fall on the whole earth. This is followed by three chapters of songs and even feasting, joyously offered up to the Lord for the triumph that is finally and irrefragably his.

Most of chapter 24 is taken up with the sheer devastation of the final judgment, its thoroughness and terror. In a series of shocking images, cities lie desolate (24:10), vineyards are fruitless (24:13), terror and traps rise everywhere (24:18), and the whole earth is broken up while the heavens unleash cataclysmic floods (24:18–19)—or, alternatively, in a mix of metaphors, the earth withers under devastating drought (24:4). Yet there are two sub-themes that also capture the attention of the reader.

First: “The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes, and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt” (24:5–6). Probably the reference to “covenant” has in view the covenant God established with Noah and his descendants after the Flood (Gen. 9:8–17), which echoes the structure of obligations coming from creation itself. If so, the “laws” and “statutes” that have been violated are the fundamental standards of right behavior implicit and sometimes stipulated in a universe where God is absolutely central and where human beings, God’s image-bearers, are rightly and lovingly related to him. The sad reality is that we have “broken the everlasting covenant” (24:5). Our horrible breach has attracted the righteous curse of God (24:6). The apocalyptic vision of final judgment in this chapter is the consequence.

Second: twice in this chapter the glory that accompanies judgment, or that awaits beyond it, breaks through the otherwise unrelenting gloom. In 24:14–16a, Isaiah pictures people coming from the west and the east, acclaiming the majesty of the Lord, raising their voices in joyous praise, singing from the ends of the earth, “Glory to the Righteous One”—which simultaneously signals that the judgment is over and that God has been righteous in dispensing it. The last verse in the chapter (v. 23) is like a prelude to the closing vision of the Bible. The ultimate glory of the new Jerusalem is so brilliant that no sun is needed: “the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Rev. 21:23).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 23 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Numbers 32; Psalm 77; Isaiah 24; 1 John 2

 

asaph must have given a lot of thought to the question of what believers should remember. Psalm 75, we saw yesterday, commends the power of godly “recital”—a retelling of what God has done so as to bring near God’s “name.” The importance of remembering and retelling is at the heart of Psalm 78. And here in Psalm 77, Asaph highlights yet another element in this theme.

Asaph finds himself in great distress (77:1). Its causes we do not know, but most of us have passed through “dark nights of the soul” when it seems that either God is dead or he does not care. Asaph was so despondent he could not sleep; indeed, he charges God with keeping him from sleep (77:4). Memories of other times when circumstances were so bright that he sang with joy in the night hours (77:6) serve only to depress him further. Bitterness tinges his list of rhetorical questions: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” (77:7–9).

What Asaph resolves to focus on is all the ways God has disclosed himself in power in the past. He writes: “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High” (77:10)—in other words, he appeals to all the displays of strength, of the deeds of God’s “right hand,” across the years. “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds” (77:11–12). So in the rest of the psalm, Asaph switches to the second person, addressing God directly, remembering some of the countless deeds of grace and power that have characterized God’s dealings with the covenant people of God. He remembers the plagues, the Exodus, the crossing of the Red Sea, the way God led his people “by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (77:13–20).

Christians have all the more to remember. As Asaph “remembered” the Exodus by reading Scripture, so we have even more Scripture. We remember not only all that Asaph remembered, but things he did not know: the Exile, the return from exile, the long years of waiting for the coming of the Messiah. We remember the Incarnation, the years of Jesus’ life and ministry, his words and mighty deeds. Above all, we remember his death and resurrection, and the powerful work of the Spirit at Pentecost and beyond.

And as we remember, our faith is strengthened, our vision of God is renewed, and the despair lifts.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 22 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Numbers 31; Psalms 75–76; Isaiah 23; 1 John 1

 

in this section of isaiah’s prophecy (chaps. 13–27), the city-state of Tyre (Isaiah 23) is the last region to attract an oracle of God against it. If Babylon became proverbial for its imperial might and for its cultural and aesthetic achievements, Tyre was famous throughout the Mediterranean world for its wealth.

The historical setting of this oracle is reasonably clear. Babylon has recently been destroyed by the Assyrians (23:13)—a reference to either the attack of Sennacherib (710 b.c.) or the pillaging destruction under Sargon (689). This was before Babylon rose to become a superpower in its own right, one that would eventually destroy and replace Assyria. At this juncture in history, the recent destruction of Babylon serves as the model and threat of what will happen to Tyre.

Tyre made its money as the premier trading center of the Mediterranean world. The ships of Tarshish (Spain, at the other end of the Mediterranean) wail at the reports of Tyre’s destruction (23:1, 14). These reports reach Cyprus (23:1), just off the coast, and then Sidon (23:2–4). Egypt, the bread-basket of the Mediterranean, weeps because of the effect on her trade in grain (23:5). The fall of Tyre affected the Mediterranean the way the crash of Wall Street in 1929 affected the world.

Whatever the historical pressures that brought about Tyre’s destruction, Isaiah wants us to know that it was the Lord’s doing (23:8–12)—and it is he who restores the city-state again, even if all she does with her new lease on life is return to her old “prostitution” (23:15, 17). Yet her sin, finally, is not money, but pride: “The Lord Almighty planned it, to bring low the pride of all glory and to humble all who are renowned on the earth” (23:9). There is no necessary connection between wealth and pride (witness Job), but the link is frighteningly common. Great wealth often fosters a spirit of arrogant self-sufficiency. What steps should Christians in the relatively prosperous West take against this dreadful sin?

In the spirit of prophetic foreshortening, the last verses (23:17–18) dance from history to eschatology. Eventually the wealth of the earth, even if it is gathered by great commercial traders like Tyre, will all be set apart for the Lord: he is the One who gave it, and all things return to him. And all such wealth will go to “those who live before the Lord.” Here is another adumbration of a reconstituted universe, no longer crippled by all that is vile, where God’s people delight in him and his gifts forever.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 22 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Numbers 31; Psalms 75–76; Isaiah 23; 1 John 1

 

one of the important functions of corporate worship is recital, that is, a “re-telling” of the wonderful things that God has done. Hence Psalm 78:2–4: “I will utter hidden things, things from of old—what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.” Similarly, if more briefly, Psalm 75:1: “We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks, for your Name is near; men tell of your wonderful deeds.” In fact, the New English Bible is a little closer to the Hebrew: “Thy name is brought very near to us in the story of thy wonderful deeds.” God’s “name” is part of his gracious self-disclosure. It is a revelation of who he is (Ex. 3:14; 34:5–7, 14). God’s “name,” then, is brought very near us in the story of his wonderful deeds: that is, who God is is disclosed in the accounts of what he has done.

Thus the recital of what God has done is a means of grace to bring God near to his people. Believers who spend no time reviewing and pondering in their minds what God has done, whether they are alone and reading their Bibles or joining with other believers in corporate adoration, should not be surprised if they rarely sense that God is near.

The emphasis this psalm makes regarding God is that he is the sovereign disposer, the “disposer supreme” (as one commentator puts it). It is wonderfully stabilizing to us to rest in such a God. He declares, “I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge uprightly” (75:2). It is hard to imagine a category more suggestive of God’s firm control than “the appointed time.” Yet mere control without justice would be fatalism. This God, however, not only sets the appointed times, but judges uprightly (75:2). Further, in this broken world there are cataclysmic events that seem to threaten the entire social order. Elsewhere David ponders, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (11:3). But here we are reassured, for God himself declares, “When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm” (75:3). So the arrogant who may think themselves to be the pillars of society are duly warned: “Boast no more” (75:4). To the wicked, God says, “Do not lift your horns against heaven [like a ram tossing its head about in bold confidence]; do not speak with outstretched neck” (75:5).

Retell God’s wonderful deeds and bring near his name.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 21 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Numbers 30; Psalm 74; Isaiah 22; 2 Peter 3

 

peter urges his readers to “wholesome thinking” (2 Peter 3, especially v. 1), in particular about the Lord’s return. This presupposes that unwholesome thinking about the Lord’s return was circulating. Today even more forms of unwholesome thinking about this event exist than in the first century. Peter stresses that:

(1) In every generation there will be scoffers who sneer at the notion of Christ’s return (3:3). Sometimes this scoffing will be grounded in a profoundly anti-Christian worldview. In our own day, philosophical naturalism obviously has no place for the ultimate supernatural visit to Planet Earth, nor even for an end of history brought about by God himself. The stance may be tied to some uniformitarian perspective (3:4). Never should we forget that such perspectives often have moral dimensions to them. It is so much more convenient, for those who cherish their own moral autonomy, to deny that there is a final accounting (3:3).

(2) We should never overlook the fact that God has not left himself without witness in this regard. Not only has he imposed massive judgments on powerful nations and empires (often by “natural” means), but two events in the record of the earth’s existence testify to God’s cataclysmic intervention: Creation, and the destruction of the Deluge (3:5–7). Here our society suppresses, for example, the extremely articulate forms of the argument from design: we “deliberately forget” what God has done. Our evaluation of these matters is tied to our moral and spiritual alienation from God our Maker.

(3) The delay before Christ’s return reflects not only God’s very different view of the pace of events (3:8), but his matchless forbearance: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (3:9). Paul says something similar: “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Rom. 2:4).

(4) When Christ does return at the end, however, his return will be sudden, unmistakable, and cataclysmic (3:10). It will mark the end of the universe as we know it. During the 1950s, when residents of North America were sometimes asked to build nuclear bomb shelters to shield themselves from the holocaust that threatened, I asked my dad if we should build one. He quietly replied, “Why? When Jesus comes, the very elements will be destroyed [cf. 3:10, 12]. Be ready for him, and fear nothing else.”

(5) And that is the point. In light of all this, “what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (3:11–12). The test of eschatology is ethics.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 21 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Numbers 30; Psalm 74; Isaiah 22; 2 Peter 3

 

a few years ago I spent some time in a certain so-called “third world” country, well known for its abject poverty. What struck me most forcibly about the culture of that country, however, was not its poverty, nor the gap between the very wealthy and the very poor—I had read up enough on these points that I was not surprised, and I had witnessed similar tragedies elsewhere—but its ubiquitous, endemic corruption.

Here in the West, we are not well placed to wag a finger. Doubtless we have less overt bribery; doubtless we have published prices for many government services that make bribes and kickbacks a little more difficult to institutionalize; doubtless there is still enough Christian heritage that at least on paper we avow that honesty is a good thing, that a man or woman’s word should be his or her bond, that greed is evil—though very often such values are nowadays honored rather more in the breech than in reality. Even so, we are by far the most litigious nation in the world. We produce far more lawyers than engineers (the reverse of Japan). The simplest agreement nowadays must be surrounded by mounds of legalese protecting the participants. A fair bit of this stems from the fact that many individuals and companies will not keep their word, will not try to do the right thing, and will try to rip off the other party if they can get away with it. A lie is embarrassing only if you are caught. Promises and pledges become devices to get what you want, rather than commitments to truth. Solemn marriage vows are discarded on a whim, or dissolved in the heat of lust. And of course, if we easily abandon marriage covenants, business covenants, and personal covenants, it is equally easy to abandon the covenant with God.

Telling the truth and keeping one’s promises in one domain of life spill over into other domains; conversely, infidelity in one arena commonly spills over into other arenas. So, nestled within the Mosaic covenant are these words: “This is what the Lord commands: When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said” (Num. 30:1–2). The rest of the chapter recognizes that such oaths by individuals may not be merely individual matters; there may be spousal or family entailments. So for the right ordering of the culture, God himself sets forth who, under this covenant, is permitted to ratify or set aside a pledge; that pattern says something about headship and responsibility in the family. But the fundamental issue is one of truth-telling and fidelity.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 20 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Numbers 29; Psalm 73; Isaiah 21; 2 Peter 2

 

in 2 peter 2:1–3, and throughout much of the rest of the chapter, Peter warns against false teachers.

(1) These false teachers emerge from within the believing community—in precisely the way that the most dangerous false prophets in Old Testament times were those who emerged from within the old covenant community (2:1). False teachers and false prophets are a lot easier to spot when they stand outside the fellowship of God’s people and criticize. A David Hume or a Bertrand Russell seduces far smaller numbers of God’s people than many popular “televangelists.” Even on a smaller scale, the most dangerous false teachers in a local church are those with either little biblical grasp or perverse biblical grasp who in the name of the Gospel twist the community into their particular mold. Expect such people. All of the Bible attests the frequency of their attacks and the tragic damage they cause.

(2) What they “secretly introduce” are “destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them” (2:2). They never describe their teaching in such terms, of course, nor do they stand in the pulpit and say something like “I disown Jesus” or “I deny that Jesus fully redeemed me from my sin.” If they did, they would be turned out. Their approach is almost always to relativize Jesus, diminish his significance, or allow him to stand as part of the background noise while they direct the attention of believers to their own agenda—legalism, perhaps, or endless self-help, or sentimentalized therapy, or a Jesus who is no more than one of many options. Thus by their teaching they disown the Jesus whose death potentially embraced all, not least these false teachers who nominally submit to him but who in reality domesticate him or reinvent him.

(3) Very often these false teachers are popular (2:2). In fact, their popularity has two painful effects. In the eyes of many, it legitimizes these teachers—and then their ostensible legitimacy destroys the credibility of genuine Christianity, for their conduct brings “the way of truth into disrepute.”

(4) Quite commonly these false teachers “exploit you” (2:3). Sometimes this exploitation is blatantly fiscal: always watch where the money goes. At least as commonly it is manipulative: they shape your mind and direction by their fluent storytelling.

(5) God has the last word; the condemnation of these false teachers is inevitable (2:3). As the following verses (2:4–10) make clear, God is perfectly capable of saving the righteous remnant and of bringing these false teachers to condemnation.

For each of the preceding five points, think of two examples, one drawn from the Bible and one from Christian history, recent or otherwise.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 20 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Numbers 29; Psalm 73; Isaiah 21; 2 Peter 2

 

few psalms have provided greater succor to people who are troubled by the frequent, transparent prosperity of the wicked than Psalm 73.

Asaph begins with a provocative pair of lines: “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” Does the parallelism hint that the people of Israel are the pure in heart? Scarcely; that accords neither with history nor with this psalm. The second line, then, must be a restriction on the first. Should those who are not pure in heart be equated with the wicked so richly described in this psalm? Well, perhaps, but what is striking is that the next lines depict not the evil of the wicked but the sin of Asaph’s own heart. His own heart was not pure as he contemplated “the prosperity of the wicked” (73:3). He envied them. Apparently this envy ate at him until he was in danger of losing his entire moral and religious balance: his “feet had almost slipped” (73:2).

What attracted Asaph to the wicked was the way so many of them seem to be the very picture of serenity, good health, and happiness (73:4–12). Even their arrogance has its attractions: it seems to place them above others. Their wealth and power make them popular. At their worst, they ignore God with apparent total immunity from fear. They seem “always carefree, they increase in wealth” (73:12).

So perhaps righteousness doesn’t pay: “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence” (73:13). Asaph could not quite bring himself to this step: he recognized that it would have meant a terrible betrayal of “your children” (73:15)—apparently the people of God to whom Asaph felt loyalty and for whom, as a leader, he sensed a burden of responsibility. But all his reflections were “oppressive” to him (73:16), until three profound realizations dawned on him.

First, on the long haul the wicked will be swept away. As Asaph entered the sanctuary, he reflected on the “final destiny” (73:17–19, 27) of those he had begun to envy, and he envied them no more.

Second, Asaph himself, in concert with all who truly know God and walk in submission to him, possesses so much more than the wicked—both in this life and in the life to come. “I am always with you,” Asaph exults; “you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory” (73:23–24).

Third, Asaph now sees his bitterness for the ugly sin it is (73:21–22), and resolves instead to draw near to God and to make known all God’s deeds (73:28).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 19 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Numbers 28; Psalm 72; Isaiah 19–20; 2 Peter 1

 

isaiah 19–20 continues the prophecies regarding Egypt/Cush. Here I shall outline the flow of thought and then draw out an important lesson for the contemporary world.

Isaiah 19 is divided into two parts. The first is poetic in form (19:1–15) and pronounces judgment on Egypt. The details are not sufficiently specific for us to be certain which historical assault on Egypt is in view. Egypt was seized by Esarhaddon (671 b.c.), Ashurbanipal (667), Nebuchadnezzar (568), Cambyses (525), and Alexander the Great (332). Probably the “cruel master” or “fierce king” (19:4) is representative of all of them. The lesson for Isaiah’s fellow citizens is the one constantly repeated in this book: do not make alliances with foreign powers; trust God alone. When God acts against Egypt, her religion will not save her (19:1–4), nor will the Nile (normally her lifeblood, 19:5–10), nor her counselors (19:11–15).

The second part of Isaiah 19 is in prose (19:16–25). The words “in that day” recur (19:16, 18, 19, 23, 24)—a sign of the collapsing of the ultimate horizon, the final day of judgment, into the impending historical horizon, much closer to the prophet’s immediate context. Using the categories of the day, Isaiah depicts the time when all of Egypt—even a city like Heliopolis (19:18 fn.), formerly the center of the sun-god, Ra—will come under the reign of God. And not Egypt alone: other pagan powers, here represented by Assyria, will unite in common worship of Israel’s God, and there will be peace (compare 2:2–5). Here is another adumbration of gospel power that draws in men and women from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9), in line with God’s gracious promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:3b).

The setting of Isaiah 20 is more specific: the Egyptian-backed Philistine revolt against Assyria (713–711 b.c.; cf. 14:28–31). The passage predicts the destruction of Ashdod, a major city of Philistia. During these three years, Isaiah was told by God to be dressed (or undressed!) like a captive, “stripped and barefoot” (20:2), for at least part of each day, until Ashdod fell—and then he gave a stunning interpretation of his action: he was depicting the destruction and captive status, not of Philistia but of Egypt (20:4–6). The lesson is obvious: do not trust your future to Egypt; she is a broken reed.

One lesson to learn turns on the fact that this destruction of Egypt did not take place until forty years later (671). Often we demand immediate answers from God. But God took twelve years to bring down Hitler, seventy to bring down the Russian empire, two centuries to humble the British Empire. Reflect on the implications.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 19 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Numbers 28; Psalm 72; Isaiah 19–20; 2 Peter 1

 

one of the features of the psalms that describe the enthronement of a Davidic king, or the reign of a Davidic king, is how often the language goes “over the top.” This feature combines with the built-in Davidic typology to give these psalms a twin focus. On the one hand, they can be read as somewhat extravagant descriptions of one of the Davidic kings (in this case Solomon, according to the superscription); on the other, they invite the reader to anticipate something more than a David or a Solomon or a Josiah.

So it is in Psalm 72. On the one hand, the Davidic monarch was to rule in justice, and it is entirely appropriate that so much of the psalm is devoted to this theme. In particular, he is to take the part of the afflicted, “the children of the needy” (Ps. 72:4), those “who have no one to help” (72:12). He is to oppose the oppressor and the victimizer, establishing justice and stability, and rescuing those who would otherwise suffer oppression and violence (72:14). His reign is to be characterized by prosperity, which is itself “the fruit of righteousness” (72:3—a point the West is rapidly forgetting). Gold will flow into the country; the people will pray for their monarch; grain will abound throughout the land (72:15–16).

On the other hand, some of the language is wonderfully extravagant. Some of this is in line with the way other ancient Near Eastern kings were extolled. Nevertheless, combined with the Davidic typology and the rising messianic expectation, it is difficult not to overhear something more specific. “He will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations” (72:5)—which may be true of the dynasty, or may be an extravagant wish for some purely human Davidic king, but is literally true of only one Davidic king. “He will rule from sea to sea and from the River [i.e., the Euphrates] to the ends of the earth” (72:8)—which contains a lovely ambiguity. Are the “seas” no more than the Mediterranean and Galilee? Should the Hebrew be translated (as it might be) more conservatively to read “the end of the land”? But surely not. For not only will “the desert tribes” (i.e., from adjacent lands) bow before him, but the kings of Tarshish—Spain!—and of other distant lands will bring tribute to him (72:9–10). Moreover: “All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him” (72:11). “All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed” (72:17)—as clear an echo of the Abrahamic covenant as one can imagine (Gen. 12:2–3).

One greater than Solomon has come (Matt. 12:42).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 18 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Numbers 27; Psalms 70–71; Isaiah 17–18; 1 Peter 5

 

in chapters 14–16 isaiah records oracles against Philistia (to the west of Jerusalem) and against Moab (to the east). Now (Isaiah 17–18) he speaks against Syria to the north (with its capital Damascus) and Cush to the south. Ancient Cush was made up of modern Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somaliland, i.e., a large area south of the fourth cataract of the Nile River. By the late eighth century b.c., Cush had merged with Egypt, which is still in view in chapters 19–20. Indeed the twenty-fifth dynasty, which ruled this huge region, were Ethiopians.

Recall that the crisis King Ahaz of Judah faced in Isaiah 7 was an alliance between Syria and Israel, designed to thwart Assyria; Syria and Israel tried to force Judah to join their alliance. So this oracle is against Damascus (17:1) the capital of Syria, and includes Ephraim (17:3—another name for the northern kingdom of Israel). Syria and Israel, so threatening to Judah, would soon be destroyed by Assyria. Damascus fell in 732, Samaria ten years later. After their destruction they would be like an emaciated man (17:4), like a field after harvest with only a few stalks left (17:5), like a grove of olive trees in which the fruit has been plucked and beaten with only a few olives left (17:6). The ultimate cause of the destruction of these nations is their idolatry (17:7–8), bound up with fertility cults (17:10–11).

The means for destroying Syria and Israel is depicted in 17:12–14—almost certainly Assyria, which is in turn destroyed. Yet Isaiah speaks of “many nations” (17:12): once again we have stumbled across prophetic foreshortening, Assyria serving as a model both of all the means of temporal judgment that God uses, and of the fact that he brings all nations to account, even those his providence has deployed as the club of his wrath (cf. 10:5).

If there is no help for Judah and Jerusalem in the nations of Israel and Syria (and still less in Assyria), there is also no help in the other regional power, Egypt/Cush (chap. 18). Egypt sends its ambassadors to Judah (and doubtless to other minor states) to try to woo them into their camp (18:1). Isaiah speaks to them (18:2)—almost certainly he actually speaks to the king in a prophetic oracle about the ambassadors, rather than addressing them directly—and in brilliant rhetoric describes the destruction of their nation. Yet he also heralds a time when Egyptians, just one of the many “people of the world” (18:3), will see the banner the Lord raises and bring gifts to “Mount Zion, the place of the Name of the Lord Almighty” (18:7).

Why fawn over pagan nations (and thinkers!) when the Lord himself will judge them, and when they will one day bow to him?[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 18 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Numbers 27; Psalms 70–71; Isaiah 17–18; 1 Peter 5

 

most christians have listened to testimonies that relate how some man or woman lived a life of fruitlessness and open degradation, or at least of quiet desperation, before becoming a Christian. Genuine faith in the Lord Christ brought about a personal revolution: old habits destroyed, new friends and commitments established, a new direction to give meaning and orientation. Where there was despair, there is now joy; where there was turmoil, there is now peace; where there was anxiety, there is now some measure of serenity. And some of us who were reared in Christian homes have secretly wondered if perhaps it might have been better if we had been converted out of some rotten background.

That is not the psalmist’s view. “For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb” (Ps. 71:5–6). “Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds” (71:17). Indeed, because of this background, the psalmist calmly looks over the intervening years and petitions God for persevering grace into old age: “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone” (71:9). “But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more” (71:14). “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come” (71:18).

Doubtless particular circumstances were used by God to elicit these words from the psalmist’s pen. Nevertheless, the stance itself is invaluable. The most thoughtful of those who are converted later in life wish they had not wasted so many of their early years. Now that they have found the pearl of great price, their only regret is that they did not find it sooner. More importantly, those who are reared in godly Christian homes are steeped in Scripture from their youth. There is plenty in Scripture and in personal experience to disclose to them the perversity of their own hearts; they do not have to be sociopaths to discover what depravity means. They will be sufficiently ashamed of the sins they have committed, despite their backgrounds, that instead of wishing they could have had a worse background (!), they sometimes hang their head in shame that they have done so little with their advantages, and frankly recognize that apart from the grace of God, there is no crime and sin to which they could not sink.

It is best, by far, to be grateful for a godly heritage and to petition God himself for grace that will see you through old age.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 17 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Numbers 26; Psalm 69; Isaiah 16; 1 Peter 4

 

1 peter 4 continues the theme of Christian conduct, including unjust suffering. This theme is now increasingly tied to identification with Christ (e.g., 4:14), to final judgment (4:5–6, 7, 17), and above all to the will of God: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (4:19, italics added).

But what does it mean to “do good”? This is spelled out in part in 1 Peter 4:7–11:

(a) We must be “clear minded and self-controlled so that [we] can pray” (4:7). Self-control is an element of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). Minds clouded by the heated pursuit of hedonism are not minds that can pray.

(b) We must “love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (4:8). Peter assumes, realistically, that various breaches will occur in the Christian assembly—just as they occur in a family. But in a mature family, the love of each family member for the others covers over the breaches. So also in the church. This does not mean that there are no sins to expose and discipline; the whole New Testament stands against such reductionism. On the other hand, we must face the fact that sins will be committed—and be prepared to cover them over with love. For there is no way back to the innocence of Eden—certainly not by probing each blemish and letting it all hang out, going over the same sins and failures again and again. There is no way back; there is only a way forward—through the cross, to forgiveness and forbearance. Christians must love each other deeply, “because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Mature Christians know their own hearts well enough to realize that they need such love and need to display it.

(c) We must “[o]ffer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (4:9). Loving has more to it than forbearing with another’s faults; it has more to it than positive activity such as showing hospitality: it includes how we show such hospitality—not in a grumbling or resentful fashion, but eagerly, graciously, generously.

(d) We must use whatever gifts we have received to serve others (4:10–11). Peter gives some examples, but his list is not exhaustive. If one is called to speak in the church (for example), it is not a time for showing off or for amusing the goats, but for feeding the sheep, and that means speaking “as one speaking the very words of God” (4:11). Meditate on Romans 12:6–8.

Everything is to be done in such a way “that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (4:11).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 17 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Numbers 26; Psalm 69; Isaiah 16; 1 Peter 4

 

at one level, Psalm 69 finds David pouring his heart out to God, begging for help as he faces extraordinary pressures and opponents. We may not be able to reconstruct all the circumstances that are presented here in poetic form, but David has been betrayed by people close to him, and his anguish is palpable.

At another level, this psalm is a rich repository of texts quoted or paraphrased by New Testament writers: “Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head” (69:4; see John 15:25); “I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons” (69:8; cf. John 7:5); “for zeal for your house consumes me” (69:9; see John 2:17); “and the insults of those who insult you fall on me” (69:9; see Rom. 15:3); “but I pray to you, O Lord, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation” (69:13; cf. Isa. 49:8; 2 Cor. 6:2); “they put gall in my food and gave me vinegar” (69:21; see Matt. 27:48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36); “they … gave me vinegar for my thirst” (69:21; see Matt. 27:34; Mark 15:23; John 19:28–30); “may their place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in their tents” (69:25; see Matt. 23:38; Acts 1:20); “may they be blotted out of the book of life” (69:28; cf. Luke 10:20).

For the sheer concentration of such citations and allusions in one chapter, this psalm is remarkable. Of course, they are not all of the same sort, and this brief meditation cannot possibly probe them all. But several of them fall into one important pattern. This is a psalm written by David. (There is no good reason to doubt this attribution from the superscription.) David is not only the head of the dynasty that issues in “great David’s greater Son” (as the hymn writer puts it), but in many ways he becomes a model for the king who is to come, a pattern for him—a type, if you will.

That is the reasoning of the New Testament authors. It is easy enough to demonstrate that the reasoning is well grounded. Here it is enough to glimpse something of the result. If King David could endure scorn for God’s sake (69:7), how much more the ultimate King—who certainly also suffers rejection by his brothers for God’s sake (69:8). If David is zealous for the house of the Lord, how could Jesus’ disciples possibly fail to see in his cleansing of the temple and related utterances something of his own zeal (John 2:17)? Indeed, in the minds of the New Testament authors, such passages link with the “Suffering Servant” theme that surfaces in Isaiah 53—and is here tied to King David and his ultimate heir and Lord.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 16 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Numbers 25; Psalm 68; Isaiah 15; 1 Peter 3

 

one of the striking things about 1 Peter is how Christian conduct is tied to winning a hearing for the Gospel. We saw that theme in yesterday’s meditation. Christians are to live in such a way that even the pagans will be forced to glorify God (1 Pet. 2:12). It is God’s will “that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” (2:15). The same theme is developed in chapter 3. Wives with unbelieving husbands should so adorn themselves with a gentle and quiet spirit that their husbands “may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of [their] lives” (3:2).

Similarly in 1 Peter 3:8–22. This passage includes one of the most difficult texts in the New Testament (3:18b–21), one I cannot hope to broach here. But it also once again connects Christian conduct with Christian suffering and therefore with Christian witness. This does not mean that Christian conduct has a merely utilitarian function. Christians are not to act in godly ways simply because it increases their credibility for propagandistic purposes. There are many reasons for doing good. We were “called” to it (3:9); doing good is constitutive of our very identity. Moreover, such behavior inherits blessing from God (3:9–12). Apart from the horrible exceptions that arise out of corrupt regimes and renegades (all too many of them), a citizen doing good does not have to fear oppression from those in charge of criminal justice systems (3:13). We ourselves ought to keep a clear conscience before the living God (3:16). Above all there is the example of Jesus Christ (3:17–18).

But in addition to all these reasons for living godly lives, Peter again connects conduct with witness. Even if we suffer unjustly, we will not live our lives in fear, as pagans must (3:13). Rather, in our tears we will “set apart Christ as Lord” (3:15); we will “sanctify” or “consecrate” Christ as Lord. And in this context, we will hear the apostolic injunction: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (3:15). This is similar to Paul’s “be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). Of course such readiness presupposes a heart attitude eager to bear witness and a commitment to grow in apologetic competence. As in so many other areas of life, we learn best how to do it by doing it. But Peter’s immediate point is that as we bear witness, we must do so “with gentleness and respect … so that those who speak maliciously … may be ashamed of their slander” (3:15, 16).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

May 16 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Numbers 25; Psalm 68; Isaiah 15; 1 Peter 3

 

there is more than one way to defeat the people of God.

Balak wanted Balaam to curse the Israelites (Num. 22–24). Under threat of divine sanction, Balaam stood fast and proclaimed only what God gave him to say. But here in Numbers 25 we discover a quite different tactic. Some of the Moabite women invited some of the Israelite men over for visits. Some of these visits were to the festivals and sacrifices of their gods. Liaisons sprang up. Soon there was both sexual immorality and blatant worship of these pagan gods (25:1–2), in particular the Baal (lit. Lord) of Peor (25:3). “And the Lord’s anger burned against them” (25:3).

The result is inevitable. Now the Israelites face not the wrath of Moab but the wrath of Almighty God. A plague drives through the camp and kills 24,000 people (25:9). Phinehas takes the most drastic action (25:7–8). If we evaluate it under the conditions of contemporary pluralism, or even against the nature of the sanctions that the church is authorized to impose (e.g., 1 Cor. 5), Phinehas’s execution of this man and woman will evoke horror and charges of primitive barbarism. But if we recall that under the agreed covenant of this theocratic nation, the stipulated sanction for both blatant adultery and for idolatry was capital punishment, and if we perceive that by obeying the terms of this covenant (to which the people had pledged themselves) Phinehas saved countless thousands of lives by turning aside the plague, his action appears more principled than barbaric. Certainly this judgment, as severe as it is, is nothing compared with the judgment to come.

But I shall focus on two further observations.

First, Moab had found a way to destroy Israel by enticing the people to perform actions that would draw the judgment of God. Israel was strong only because God is strong. If God abandoned the nation, the people would be capable of little. According to Balaam’s oracles, the Israelites were to be “a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations” (23:9). The evil in this occurrence of covenant-breaking is that they now wish to be indifferentiable from the pagan nations.

What temptations entice the church in the West to conduct that will inevitably draw the angry judgment of God upon us?

Second, later passages disclose that these developments were not casual “boy-meets-girl” larks, but official policy arising from Balaam’s advice (31:16; cf. 2 Peter 2:16; Rev. 2:14). We are treated to the wretched spectacle of a compromised prophet who preserves fidelity on formal occasions and on the side offers vile advice, especially if there is hope of personal gain.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.